It’s the GOTV, stupid!
Four simple letters, but, if history is an accurate guide, they potentially could be the most important in the this year’s presidential election.
Some are looking at the debates at being the deciding factor in who occupies the White House for the next four years, but with the exception of 1980, when President Carter damaged himself by failing to show up for the first debate because he opposed third candidate John Anderson’s participation, leaving Ronald Reagan essentially free access to the American electorate, who wins and loses the debates isn’t necessarily a predictor of who will win the election. In 1992, Ross Perot decisively won two of three debates, according to Gallup polls, but didn’t even collect one-fifth of the vote on Election Day, finishing third.
Instead, it’s G-O-T-V: Get Out The Vote. Whoever wins the ground battle Nov. 2 and the days just before more than likely wins the war.
For years, the Democrats were masters of the mobilization effort, not just holding an advantage over the GOP, but dominating them. To the Republicans, G-O-T-V mistakenly meant Get On T.V. The 2000 presidential election is a perfect example of how the GOP almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Although George W. Bush eventually won, his victory was much closer than pundits, relying on polling data in the latter days of the campaign, expected.
The month-plus of Sunshine State cloudiness, ended only by a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision on recount standards, never should have been an issue. According to The New York Times, last-minute polling showed Bush up by a point in Michigan and four points in Delaware. However, after the votes were counted, Democrat Al Gore won Michigan, 51-47, and Delaware, 55-42, a 17-point difference from what was predicted.
Nationally, several election eve polls showed Bush with a lead of between three and five points. However, like in Michigan and Delaware, when the votes were tallied, Gore was ahead, capturing 543,816 more. While Gore’s popular vote victory wasn’t huge, a mere one-half percent more than Bush, it wasn’t what was predicted.
So, what happened? How did the Democrats score better in the only poll that counts, that taken at the ballot box?
Simply put, the Democrats had a better ground game. That is, through the efforts of unions and other traditionally dedicated Democratic voting blocs, they were more successful at making sure their base got to the polls. Whereas the Republicans relied on phone banks, direct mail and television and radio advertisements, the Democrats talked with potential voters firsthand. In a close election, that can make all the difference.
Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political adviser, estimates that four million evangelical Christians, a group that traditionally votes Republican, did not vote in 2000. If they had, and if just 60 percent had cast ballots for Bush, he would have received an extra 2.4 million votes, erasing Gore’s total vote victory and likely adding a couple of states ‘ Bush lost New Mexico by 366 votes, Oregon by 6,460, and Wisconsin by 5,396 ‘ making Florida a non-issue.
Realizing this, the Republicans stepped out from behind the T.V. screens in 2002 to step up their GOTV efforts for the mid-term elections, and, experiencing some success, have built upon the program for 2004.
The ’72-Hour Task Force,’ as it is referred to on the Republican National Committee’s Web site, focuses on things like person-to-person campaigning, voter registration, increasing coalition activity, and voter identification and advocacy. In layman’s terms, the RNC wants to register new voters, create excitement within the party and build relationships at the grassroots level, all to ensure that in the final days of the campaign the desire is there not only for party faithful to vote, but to ensure they encourage others to do so.
In 2002, late polls had former Vice President Walter Mondale, a late replacement for Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash shortly before the election, up by about five points over Republican challenger Norm Coleman in the Minnesota U.S. senatorial race. Coleman won 50-47.
Late polls also projected Democratic Tom Strickland would defeat Republican incumbent Colorado Senator Wayne Allard. Except for a Gallup poll that had Allard up by two points, Strickland’s lead in the polls ranged from one to nine points. Allard defeated Strickland by five points.
Despite their successes, the Republicans haven’t completely caught up with the Democrats, who, it’s been suggested, have gained an extra three to five percentage points on election day because of their GOTV efforts. In the 2002 South Dakota senate race, a couple of polls showed Republican challenger John Thune with a lead over Democrat Tim Johnson. However, on election day the incumbent squeaked out a one-point victory.
Like the RNC, the Democratic National Committee on its Web site lists ways to get involved, including planning and attending events, volunteering, building online teams to spread messages to friends via the Internet, and writing letters to the media.
Who is going to win this year’s presidential election? Two of three three-day tracking polls on Sunday showed Bush with at least a four-point lead, while another showed Democrat John Kerry up by one. While interesting, history has shown they may not be an accurate predictor.
Who’s going to win? It all depends on four simple letters: G-O-T-V.